Aerobic exercise often takes the spotlight in fitness recommendations, with guidelines like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommending 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week for adults. However, it’s essential not to overlook anaerobic exercise, which provides unique health benefits and complements aerobic training.
Anaerobic exercise involves intense physical activity that does not rely on oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy source for muscle contractions. There are two anaerobic pathways:
- The phosphagen system uses creatine phosphate to generate ATP quickly but is limited to activities lasting about 1 to 30 seconds.
- Anaerobic glycolysis uses glucose to create ATP, lasting up to three minutes but producing lactate, which can cause muscle fatigue.
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Examples of anaerobic exercises include Olympic weightlifting, sprinting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and plyometric training.
Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, utilizes oxygen to produce ATP from amino acids, carbohydrates, and fatty acids. It involves sustained, rhythmic activities targeting large muscle groups, such as walking, jogging, cycling, rowing, and swimming. These exercises require lower intensity over more extended periods.
Some forms of exercise combine aerobic and anaerobic elements. Resistance training, for instance, involves working against resistance and can use both energy systems depending on factors like intensity and repetition. Flexibility, mobility, and balance training are generally considered aerobic exercises because they can be sustained for more extended periods without interruption.
Anaerobic exercise offers several health benefits, including improved heart health, healthier lipid profiles, increased muscle mass, and better muscle health. It can also release hormone-like proteins called myokines, which support muscle integrity and help prevent age-related muscle loss.
If you’re new to exercise, it’s advisable to build an aerobic foundation before incorporating anaerobic training. Individuals with specific health conditions should consult their healthcare providers before starting a new exercise routine.
When starting anaerobic exercise, consider using intervals by adding short bursts of high-intensity effort into your cardio workouts. Gradually increase the intensity and duration as your fitness level improves. Be cautious not to overdo it, as excessive anaerobic training can lead to symptoms like loss of motivation, fatigue, weakness, frequent illness, and mood changes. Ensure you include rest days between anaerobic sessions to allow your body to recover fully.